Incumbents behold redrawn districts
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young wanted a nice compact congressional district so he could seek re-election among the constituents who have grown accustomed to his name and face the past 31 years.
But the GOP-dominated Florida House has given the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee a district that eliminates a big chunk of south St. Petersburg and gives him constituents from the entire length of Pinellas County and into west Pasco County.
"It is not consistent with what I think redistricting should be about," Young said Wednesday after House Republicans adopted new plans for the state's 25 congressional districts. "I thought the district should be as compact as possible and maintain city and county boundaries as much as possible."
Young said he would feel "very strange and uncomfortable" losing the people he has represented for so many years. But he would also be getting back an area that was previously in his congressional district and his state Senate district in the 1960s.
Young may yet get his wish because the maps approved Wednesday have not gone to the Senate, and ultimately must be approved by the federal courts. Unlike some other members of Florida's congressional delegation, Young said he doesn't plan to hire a lobbyist or do anything but wait to see what happens.
"Having gone through this process as a state senator, I believe in the end the Legislature will create a responsible and fair district," Young said. "Whatever they do in St. Petersburg can affect something in Orlando. It's very difficult to make it fit. Since I've been here, I've been very careful not to inject myself in what they do."
Under the House plan, the southern tip of Young's district in south St. Petersburg would be tied to a Tampa-centered district currently served by U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa.
"I think it is important to keep communities together," Davis said Wednesday night. "But I intend to run from whatever district they draw and I'll work to bring people together."
U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, would lose some of his North Pinellas district under the House plan and pick up voters in central Pasco and northwest Hillsborough County. He could not be reached for comment.
No one expected Republicans in the state legislature to make life easy for Democrats this year, but U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, could have problems if the House map prevails.
Under the plan, Stearns and U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, would both live in Stearns' district. That could pose problems for Thurman too, but much of the newly created District 6 includes area she once represented in the state Senate.
Thurman currently serves District 5, but the House shifted her residence into Stearns' district and gave her an area that includes Marion, Alachua, Bradford, Clay and Duval counties. Both of the new districts have more registered Democrats than Republicans but have a history of voting for Republicans.
Thurman says she'll take her chances with the courts that have to review the final plan.
Thurman could easily run for either district, but if she runs against Stearns that would leave her old district open for candidates like Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, who plans to run for Congress.
Wednesday, House Republicans overrode objections from Democrats and overwhelmingly endorsed plans for redrawing the lines for House, Senate and congressional districts.
Republicans repeatedly described the process that led to the plans as "open, fair, legal and member driven," but Democrats denounced the way the maps were designed as "partisan and unfair."
Neighborhoods and communities were inappropriately divided to meet political concerns, the Democrats charged.
The House particularly penalized inner-city residents with no access to the Internet, complained Rep. Fredricka Wilson, D-Miami. Many live in communities where schools and libraries are not wired for computer access to the maps and statistics lawmakers relied on, she said.
Minority Leader Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, introduced the war in Afghanistan into the debate, criticizing those who engaged in partisan politics while young men were dying on the battlefield.
"We don't send men and women in battle to fight so one party can gain an advantage," Frankel complained. "We've just witnessed a partisan political grab by the majority party. It is self-interest, not public interest."
Several Democrats urged GOP leaders to continue working on the maps.
Members from both parties carefully read their objections and praise from scripts, laying the groundwork for lawsuits. In addition, the congressional plan must win approval in federal court and the legislative plan will be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.
Despite the partisan bitterness, a handful of Democrats defected to the Republican side when votes were taken. The congressional plan was approved by a 76-36 vote that included approval from 2 Democrats. The legislative maps were approved by a margin of 86-32 with the help of 10 Democrats who crossed party lines.
The maps will now await action by the Senate, which spent the day tangled up over Senate President John McKay's budget and tax proposal. McKay says redistricting plans in the Senate are "on hold."
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